Standing in the Shadows of Love - the Four Tops
Listening again, I feel I've made a mistake calling the great Holland Dozier Holland 1966/7 trio of hits the "trilogy of darkness". It should be the "Trilogy of Slough and Despond".
While the three songs, "Reach Out, I'll Be There", "Standing in the Shadows of Love" and "Bernadette" ostensibly are about romantic love, the subtext supplied by the music, particularly Levi Stubbs' tortured vocal, suggests otherwise. "Standing in the Shadows of Love" was the follow-up to "Reach Out I'll Be There" and many music journalists at the time criticised it as being too similar to its predecessor. Certainly Motown and H-D-H had form in sucking a successful formula dry but who's to say they weren't right, that if you can have too much of a good thing, then at least little more isn't bad?
If "Shadows" is a sequel to "Reach Out", right from the opening line things have gotten worse:
"Standing in the shadows of love I'm getting ready for the heartaches to come..."
Where "Reach Out" was love as a pure, heroic offer of rescue, "Shadows" is altogether more complex. On the surface she's leaving him, and
"Without your love, the love I need, it's the beginning of the end for me 'cause you're taking away all of my reasons for living when you pushed aside all the love I been giving...."
but the visual metaphor of "standing in the shadows" evokes a street corner image, someone selling something, drugs perhaps; add the word "love" and we are in the seamier territory of love as lust. This undercurrent,(or, combined with the intensity of Stubbs' vocal is it an overcurrent?) is emphasised by the regular interspersion of unaccompanied bongos, in the sixties the sound of wanton sensuality evoking Hollywood images of half-clad women dancing on badly lit backroom stages.
We're one step on from "Reach Out". Levi Stubbs' agonised, even sweaty, delivery indicates a fuller, physical love, more immersive than the idealistic love of its predecessor. And he knows he can't live without it.
This is way further down the line than your typical love song or even the "I just can't make it now you've gone" variation. It's love as desperation, born out of passion, and if you don't believe me, try dancing to it with the sound up.
Holland Dozier Holland may have been a hit factory, but they were also innovators. They may have repeated hit formulae, but often they pushed them so far they discovered new territory.